The NHL's 10 Most Coveted Restricted Free Agents in 2013

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistFebruary 1, 2013

The NHL's 10 Most Coveted Restricted Free Agents in 2013

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    Restricted free agents are the stuff that dreams are made of.

    That's because the chances of one team going out and getting another team's restricted free agent are usually quite slim.

    The cost is way too high.

    Last summer, the Philadelphia Flyers signed Nashville Predators All-Star defenseman Shea Weber to a 14-year, $110 million offer sheet. The Preds matched that offer, but if the Flyers had ended up with the high-caliber free agent, they would have had to give the Predators four first-round picks as compensation.

    Depending on the amount of the offer sheet signed by the restricted free agent, the player's original team is entitled to various levels of compensation.

    Most teams are unwilling to pay the freight on expensive restricted free agents. The compensation is simply too high.

    Here's a look at the top restricted free agents that will be available next summer.

Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

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    Tuukka Rask inherited the Boston Bruins' starting goaltender position after Tim Thomas decided to take the 2012-13 season off for personal reasons.

    Rask had an NHL-caliber resume based on his outstanding play in the 2009-10 season when he had a league-best 1.97 goals against average and a .931 save percentage while playing 45 games while Thomas was injured.

    Rask is earning a prorated $3.5 million this season, according to CapGeek.com. If the Bruins have a stellar year and Rask plays well, Rask will almost certainly draw attention as a restricted free agent.

    Eastern Conference teams would almost certainly show interest, as signing Rask would improve that team and weaken the Bruins.

Sam Gagner, Edmonton Oilers

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    Sam Gagner will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. He is earning $3.2 million with the Oilers this season.

    Gagner was a first-round pick with the Oilers in 2007 and has been a fairly productive player. However, when compared with the Oilers' recent crop of young stars like Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov, Gagner is not quite at their level.

    Still, he will have some value as a restricted free agent and could become a trade target.

Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues

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    The St. Louis Blues became an upper-echelon team last year.

    The play of Alex Pietrangelo was one of the key reasons for their improvement. Pietrangelo had 12 goals and 39 assists from his spot on the Blues' back line. He is a solid defenseman with obvious offensive skills.

    Pietrangelo is earning a prorated $3.166 million this season. Teams that need to improve their defense must give Pietrangelo serious consideration.

Patric Hornqvist, Nashville Predators

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    Patric Hornqvist has become a skilled goal scorer in the NHL.

    He has scored 20 or more goals in each of the last three seasons and has become one of the players that Nashville head coach Barry Trotz counts on for offense.

    Hornqvist is currently out with a lower body injury, but it is not expected to be a long-term problem (source: Tennessean.com).

    Hornqvist is earning a prorated $3.083 million this season and the offensively challenged Preds must find a way to keep Hornqvist under contract.

Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets

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    Blake Wheeler is coming of the best season of his NHL career.

    He scored 17 goals and had 47 assists for the Winnipeg Jets last season. That's decent production, but the 6'5", 205-pound Wheeler has a lot more potential.

    He has the size to dominate in the offensive zone but he has never harnessed that talent. Wheeler, 26, is earning $2.550 million (prorated) this season.

Bryan Little, Winnipeg Jets

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    Bryan Little is a legitimate offensive force who appears to be coming into his prime.

    Little, 25, scored 24 goals last year for the Winnipeg Jets. He is a quick and facile skater who knows how to put himself in position to score key goals.

    Little is earning $2.383 million on a prorated basis with the Jets this season and figures to be in Winnipeg's plans for years to come.

Tyler Kennedy, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Tyler Kennedy is a talented player who may get lost among all the talent on the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    Kennedy does not run in the same circles as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Kris Letang on the Penguins roster, but he is a legitimate talent who has a quick release when shooting.

    Kennedy, 26, is earning $2 million (prorated) as he becomes a restricted free agent next summer. He scored 21 goals in 2010-11 for the Penguins, but that figure dipped to 11 goals last season as he was limited to 60 games.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix Coyotes

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    Oliver Ekman-Larsson has all the tools to become a star defenseman in the NHL for many years to come.

    Ekman-Larsson asserted himself for the Coyotes last year, and the 21-year-old has size, skating agility and a big shot.

    Ekman-Larsson scored 13 goals and had 19 assists for the Coyotes a season ago. Two of his goals were game-winners.

    Ekman-Larsson is earning a prorated $1.75 million this season.

Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Nazem Kadri is one of the most skilled young prospects in the NHL.

    Unfortunately for Kadri, he has not yet established himself as a productive player with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Prior to the start of the current season, Kadri had scored eight goals in 51 games for the Leafs over two-plus seasons.

    Kadri, 22, has an array of offensive moves that have the potential to make him a dangerous player. He is earning $1.720 million (prorated) this season.

    Kadri has three goals and three assists in his first six games of the season. If Kadri can stay healthy and hold his spot in the lineup, he could put solid numbers on the board this year.

Cody Hodgson, Buffalo Sabres

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    The Buffalo Sabres loved Cody Hodgson's skill level when they viewed him from afar prior to the 2011-12 trade deadline.

    That's why they traded tough guy Zack Kassian to the Vancouver Canucks for him. Hodgson is a solid skater with an explosive shot. He is earning a prorated $1.666 million with the Sabres this season.

    Hodgson scored 19 goals last year and has scored three goals in six games with the Sabres this year. He has the ability to light the lamp and that should earn him a decent contract with the Sabres next year.